The Buffalo Bills enter year two under head coach Doug Marrone and their franchise quarterback in place after drafting E.J. Manuel out of Florida State in 2013. Now the team has to continue protecting him up front and surrounding him with weapons if it wants to usurp the AFC East throne from the New England Patriots.
The Bills offense underwhelmed in 2013. An assortment of injuries to Manuel forced undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel into action at quarterback, then Thad Lewis. The offensive line did not help matters in pass protection, allowing 48 sacks, fourth most in the NFL, as the passing game struggled mightily and averaged just 193.9 yards per game (28th in the NFL).
Rookie Robert Woods showed flashes and Steve Johnson battled injuries, and the Bills’ top two wide receivers finished the season with 92 catches for 1,184 yards six touchdowns. Tight end Scott Chandler led the team in receptions (53) and yards (655). C.J. Spiller had a down year by his standards, gaining only 933 yards on the ground and just over 1,100 yards from scrimmage - with a meager three combined touchdowns. He did, however, average 4.6 yards per carry and showed he is still an explosive playmaker. Fred Jackson had a Renaissance season at age 33, splitting time with Spiller and providing nearly 1,300 total yards and 10 touchdowns. For all the trouble the Bills offensive line had in pass protection, it was able to open up holes for Spiller and Jackson, as the Bills finished second in the NFL in rushing (144.2 yards per game) behind only the Eagles.
The defense was a ferocious unit in 2013 and ranked second the NFL in sacks, with 57. Mario Williams led the way with 13 of those sacks, as he reclaimed his status as one of the league’s most dominant pass rushers, while former first-round pick Jerry Hughes, acquired from the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason, had a breakout season of his own on the opposite end with 10 sacks. The defensive line was, without question, the Bills’ biggest strength. Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus paired to form the NFL’s most disruptive duo of interior defensive linemen and totaled 18.0 sacks.
The Bills added linebackers Brandon Spikes, formerly of the rival Patriots, and Keith Rivers, formerly of the New York Giants, in free agency to complete the trio with Kiko Alonso, who finished second in Rookie Of The Year voting. The secondary lost Jairus Byrd, one of the NFL’s premier safeties and playmakers, to free agency but replaced him with Corey Graham, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. It still has Stephon Gilmore, however, who proved as a rookie that he is one of the league’s up-and-coming stars at cornerback. He broke his wrist in 2013 preseason and missed the first five games of the season, but immediately regained his elite form upon returning and playing the final 11 games.
The general consensus seems to be that the Bills are fairly set on defense, and that it is the offense which needs the most help. With the ninth overall pick in our Fan Mock Draft, the Bills have missed out on the top two wide receivers in Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, but dynamic tight end Eric Ebron is still on the board and would make for an ideal weapon to give to Manuel. Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan to help bolster the offensive line is another option here, as is Notre Dame offensive tackle/guard Zack Martin. If the Bills are dead set on taking a wide receiver, they could look at Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU), Brandin Cooks (Oregon State) and Marqise Lee (USC).
1. Houston Texans -- LB Jadeveon Clowney
2. St. Louis Rams -- T Greg Robinson
3. Jacksonville Jaguars -- QB Johnny Manziel
4. Cleveland Browns -- WR Sammy Watkins
5. Oakland Raiders -- LB Khalil Mack
6. Atlanta Falcons -- OT Jake Matthews
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- WR Mike Evans
8. Minnesota Vikings -- QB Blake Bortles